The manager of the Houston Astros is A. J. Hinch. Hinch had a long, if undistinguished career as a player in Major League Baseball (MLB), playing catcher for the Oakland Athletics from 1998–2000, the Kansas City Royals from 2001–2002, the Detroit Tigers in 2003 and concluding his playing career with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2004. He had previously managed the Arizona Diamondbacks from May 2009 to July 2010.
Dave Roberts is also a former big league player and has the distinction of being the first person of Asian descent to lead a team to the World Series. Roberts played outfield for the Cleveland Indians over 3 seasons from 1999 to 2001, he was then traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers where he played from 2002 to 2004. He then went to the Boston Red where he played on the 2004 World Series winner. After the season, he was traded to the San Diego Padres where he played for the 2005 season. He ended his career with the San Francisco Giants. After his playing career ended he returned to San Diego and began his coaching career.
It was in San Diego where Roberts and Hinch became close friends. According to the Houston Chronicle Hinch had been hired “as the Padres’ vice president of professional scouting. A year later, he was promoted to vice president/assistant general manager. In the role, Hinch served as essentially a liaison to manager Bud Black’s coaching staff, which included Roberts, initially as first-base coach and then as Black’s bench coach.” They became good friends. Earlier this summer their families met in San Diego during the All-Star break. Over a meal, they joked they could meet each other in October. Hinch recalled, “And what first started off as fun family banter turned serious during the conversation that, “We’re going to make this happen. We’re going to really do this. And lo and behold, it’s finishing that way.”” In addition to being good friends what both Hinch and Roberts bring to the game is a passion for baseball.
I thought of both their friendship and their passion when I read a recent Corner Office column in the New York Times (NYT) by Adam Bryant, entitled “Bryan Roberts of Venrock on Seeing Problems as Opportunities”, which featured an interview with Bryan Roberts (no relation to the Dodgers manager), a partner at the venture capital firm of Venrock Partners. Many of Roberts’ comments pointed towards a key tool for every compliance professional, to see problems as opportunities. Indeed this is one of the primary differences in the corporate compliance function and the corporate legal department, which does not see problem as opportunities but generally issues a company needs protection from going forward.
Interestingly Roberts enjoyed problem solving from a young age. He said, “I loved problem solving as a kid. That’s probably the thread through most of my life. How do you build this? How do I get from here to there? The actual content of the problem matters less than the need to puzzle through something.” Also his parents encouraged this interest teaching him to think about others more than himself. This led him to note that “if you put your company ahead of you, you’re going to do fine. And I try to always interact with people who put other people front and center, rather than themselves.” It also led the following observation, “People who are self-directed generally gather accomplishments and accolades and are very happy to tell you about them. When people are company- or mission-directed, it manifests as humility, and they generally push credit off onto other people.”
Roberts early commercial ventures taught him some valuable lessons, which came from after school and summer jobs. He said, “I ran a business that did work in the surrounding community. We painted. We trimmed trees. We cleaned some restaurants. You can mess something up and figure out how to own it and get yourself out of it. You also learn that life is not about avoiding problems; it’s about how you deal with them. That is a core tenet for me now. If you spend your life trying to avoid problems, you will never get anything done. You’ll just be trying to mitigate risk all day long.” In other words, what will be your risk management strategy going forward. This confirms why having a robust compliance program in place does not slow a business down but allows you to take greater risks because they are managed more fully.
In Roberts position he has received literally thousands of pitches. So I was interested in what he looks for from the investor perspective. His comments provide insight into what a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) might think about in a budget proposal or when asking the Board’s Compliance Committee for additional resources. Roberts said that he starts off “with, “What can I answer for you?” It tells me a lot, including how knowledgeable they are about the company, how much they’ve thought about the interview and what they care about. I leave it very open-ended and listen to where they go. I can tell an enormous amount from that.” Every CCO should take this message to heart and be as knowledgeable as possible on not only the subject matter but whom they are speaking to as well. At Board presentations, this can be even more critical as every director will bring their own experiences from either the entities they are involved with or those they have worked with in the past.
Roberts thoughts on hiring were also of interest for a compliance professional. He said “I’m looking for passion for excellence, crossed with humility, crossed with putting others first. Humility and putting others first are interlocked…To some degree, I’m looking for people who are an A+ in one or two things, and they can be Ds in a couple of other things.” Your hires do not have to be perfect but if you can find compliance practitioners with humility and put others first, they probably will have a great passion for the compliance profession.
Roberts ended by talking about passion in what you choose to do. For me, these words rang as true as anything else he said. He advised persons to take “time to figure out what you really like and what you’re really passionate about. The only thing that’s worse than really hard work is really hard work on something you don’t love.” As a CCO or compliance professional you will never have the financial or head count resources you need. You will have to make do with something less and still must work very hard. If you do not love the compliance profession, it will be much harder. I am very passionate about compliance so I love working with, in and for our profession.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2017